Beyond the busy city streets, populated sidewalks and air pollution, children are offered an opportunity to explore, fish and practice archery at a summer camp. However, these children are diagnosed with asthma and the program provides them an opportunity to experience summer camp and learn how to control their illness.
“There is a need for children to learn about their asthma and what to do,” Michael Johnson, camp director for Camp Breathe Happy, told the AFRO.
The camp, owned and operated by the nonprofit Breathe DC, specializes in educating children ages 8 to 12 while giving them a camping experience in Upper Marlboro, Md. The camp began in 2010 when Breathe DC decided to serve communities in Wards 7 and 8 that faced health disparities, according to Johnson.
Johnson, who also works as a respiratory therapist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said 18,000 children have asthma in D.C. Last year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report stating Black children are more likely to develop asthma than White children. Black children are six times more likely than White children to die of complications from asthma, according to a March 4 report by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.
“The communities are underserved, but Breathe Happy can give them full knowledge on how to manage and control their asthma,” Johnson said. “They can go outside of D.C. and do activities they probably could not do in their area.”
Children attending Camp Breathe Happy, learn “how to identify asthma triggers, notice the signs or symptoms of an asthmatic episode, use medication and breathing exercises” as well as “communicate their illnesses more effectively,” per the nonprofit’s website.
The camp incorporates lessons such as Fight Asthma Now, or FAN, an educational manual taught by the counselors and medical officials. Children can also properly address their asthma with assistance from the physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and counselors provided by the camp.
Shameka Clemons, a camp counselor, told the AFRO about her niece’s experience with asthma. “My niece used to have a hard time playing. Once she got to camp and did FAN she learned how to deal with it,” Clemons said. “She’s much better and not afraid to go out and play because she can control it.”
Since the camp began, more than 400 kids have attended, according to Johnson. The camp offers either a day camp or children can attend the overnight camp. Sessions are for 5 days and 4 nights and are free for the children. The camp is in partnership with organizations like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club, and receives funding from various sources including managed care organization.
Breathe D.C. and Camp Breathe Happy strive to assist the metropolitan region in the prevention and education of lung disease and asthma. “They’re [the children] at camp, meeting new people and making new friends, but they’re learning at the same time,” Clemons said.